A great book or film, invites us to consider the life of character who is searching for purpose and longing for meaning. At some point in that journey of self-discovery, the character has a eureka moment. He or she discovers a truth so profound and meaningful that, simply by realizing it, his or her life will be forever changed. In other words, the character has an epiphany – an insight about God, the world or his or herself that alters everything.
The passage of the finding of Jesus in the temple is a very important passage in the gospel story. According to the law, every adult Jewish male who lived within fifteen miles of Jerusalem had to attend the Passover. Every Jewish person should attend it at least once in a lifetime. A Jewish boy became a man when he turned thirteen years of age. At that moment, he became a son of the law. This is what is celebrated in a Bar Mitzvah, the boy becomes to a “son of the commandments”. (A girl becomes a “daughter of the commandments” through a Bat Mitzvah.) Through the ritual, a boy dies to his childish ways and becomes a subject of the law. It means that he can properly understand the Torah. This coming of age relates to acquiring wisdom.
So at age thirteen, Jesus for the first time went to the Passover. Through no fault of their own, Mary and Joseph leave the city without him. Usually the women, in a caravan, leave before the men. The men would start later and travel faster and the two caravans would not meet until the evening. No doubt Mary thought Jesus was with Joseph and vice versa.
When they did not find him, they returned to Jerusalem to look for him. For the Sanhedrin, there was a custom during the Passover season to meet in public in the Temple court to discuss religious and theological questions. Saint Luke tells us that after three days they found him in the temple, “sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers” (Lk 2:46-47).
And then we are given one of the key passages in the life of Jesus. “Your father and I”, said Mary, “have been looking for you anxiously.” “Did you not know”, said Jesus, “that I must be in my Father's house?” (Lk 2:48-49). I imagine how gently but very unequivocally Jesus takes the name father from Joseph and gives it to God.
At some point, Jesus must have discovered his own unique relationship to God. As the years went on, he must have had thoughts and insights. And then he knew. This moment is what the great biblical scholar William Barclay calls “the dawning realization”. This is how he describes it in his commentary on the Gospel of Luke: “At his first passover, with manhood dawning, there came in a sudden blaze of realization the consciousness that he was in a unique sense the Son of God. Here we have the story of the day when Jesus discovered who he was.”
The first words of Jesus in the Gospel witness to his realization: “Did not you know I must be in my Father's house?” In these words Jesus sums up his whole person, life, and mission. These words reveal his Divine Sonship. As Pope John XXIII once said, “His whole life will only be a clarifying and magnificent exposition of the meaning of these words.”
Jesus' dawning realization transformed his life forever. He discovered the purpose and meaning of his life. His mission is to give glory to the Father and to love, serve and heal his people. This discovery did not make him proud. It actually made him humble. He returned home with Mary and Joseph and “he was obedient to them” (Lk 2:51). Being the Son of God made Jesus a wholesome and exemplary human being.
As we contemplate the first words from Jesus recorded in the Gospel, we contemplate his dawning realization: I am the Son of God. We also contemplate the implications of that for us. Through the sonship of our saviour all become sons and daughters of God. It was through Jesus that God would eventually, “bring many children unto glory” (Heb. 2:10). We have received the spirit of God's adopted children by which we call out, “Abba Father!”.
How has the realization that you are a son/daughter of God changed your life? How can you be an instrument of love, service and healing to all God's people?